Bush envisions a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan

President reverses stance against `nation-building' he took during campaign

April 18, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

LEXINGTON, Va. - President Bush embraced a major U.S. role in rebuilding Afghanistan yesterday, calling for a plan he compared to the one Gen. George C. Marshall devised for Europe after World War II, and vowed to keep the United States engaged in Afghanistan "until the mission is done."

Speaking before cadets at the Virginia Military Institute, Bush warned that military force alone could not bring "true peace" to Afghanistan and that stability would come only after the war-ravaged country reconstructed its roads, health care system, schools and businesses - just as Europe and Japan did after 1945.

"We know that true peace will only be achieved when we give the Afghan people the means to achieve their own aspirations," Bush said.

"Peace will be achieved by helping Afghanistan develop its own stable government. Peace will be achieved by helping Afghanistan train and develop its own national army. And peace will be achieved through an education system for boys and girls which works."

Bush cast the mission in moral terms and did not say what kinds of resources the United States was prepared to devote to the task - or how deeply the U.S. military would be involved.

But he made clear that the United States was ready to lead an international effort, repeatedly invoking the name of Marshall, who graduated from VMI in 1901 and was President Harry S. Truman's secretary of state after World War II.

In his comments, Bush seemed to complete a reversal of policy that began six months ago with the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and the U.S. military response in Afghanistan.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Bush dismissed the Clinton administration's efforts in Somalia and the Balkans as "nation-building" and rejected proposals by Vice President Al Gore for a Marshall-like plan to rebuild the Balkans. Bush said such reconstruction programs were not a proper role for the U.S. military.

But yesterday the president repeatedly described Marshall's efforts in Europe as a model for Afghanistan, proposing a long-term commitment that would extend far beyond the battlefield and into such projects as paving roads, clearing minefields, building clinics and contributing to economic development.

"By helping to build an Afghanistan that is free from this evil and is a better place in which to live, we are working in the best traditions of George Marshall," Bush said.

"Marshall knew that our military victory in World War II had to be followed by a moral victory that resulted in better lives for individual human beings."

Hours after Bush's speech, however, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld made it clear at a Pentagon briefing that the president did not envision using U.S. forces as part of a peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.

He noted that while many nations have contributed to such an international force, neither Britain, which leads the force, nor Turkey, which is expected to take over that role, wanted to expand it beyond the capital, Kabul.

"If the International Security Assistance Force wants to be expanded, fine," Rumsfeld said. "If it wants to go to other countries, fine. Who's going to lead it? Who's going to pay for it?"

Meanwhile in Afghanistan yesterday, a gunman opened fire on a group of U.S. Special Forces soldiers shopping on a busy street in Kandahar, wounding one American and an Afghan before escaping.

Witnesses said the Americans, who were wearing civilian clothes, were at a gun shop when the shots were fired.

The Americans thought a firecracker had exploded until they noticed one of their group was bleeding, said Maj. Ralph Mills, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla.

The wounded American, whose name was not released, walked to his vehicle unassisted, witnesses said.

He was taken to the U.S. military hospital at Kandahar airport, where he was reported in stable condition.

Afghan troops cordoned off the area and searched for the assailant. They also warned shopkeepers to be vigilant for further attacks.

The shooting occurred one day before Afghanistan's former king was expected to return to the capital, Kabul, after 29 years exiled in Rome.

Mohammad Zaher Shah was to have come home last month, but his trip was postponed because of fears for his safety.

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